Why Losing Weight May Not Make You Happy

Most of us have been there: we have an important social event or work meeting, and we inadvertently catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror. Ugh! we think, I need to do something about that!

Some of us spend much of our lives in pursuit of changing our bodies, mostly in the form of losing weight. I know from personal and professional experience that losing weight in this way usually does not result in the happiness that we expect, and that is because body dissatisfaction is not about weight at all.

The idiom “red herring” comes from training hunting dogs how to track scents, and the scent of the red herring is used to distract the dogs from the scent they were originally tracking. Body shame works in the same way. Instead of focusing on what is actually making us insecure, we turn our shame on our own bodies. 

“I don’t like how big my stomach is,” is much easier to cope with than, “I think I should be married by now,” because the former has a simple solution: lose weight. However, even if we were to lose the weight we want to, the issues that are making us insecure will still be there. Focusing on our body image is a very effective strategy to distract us from more painful realities. 

There are some common issues that make us want to lose weight that have nothing to do with weight. Some of which include: loneliness, relationship problems, issues with work or career, making a big decision, questioning faith or spirituality, grief, identity confusion, and internalized weight stigma. Any combination of these issues can result in us waging war on our own body.

When we find a way to decode our negative body image, we usually find that the things we are insecure about are much more painful than how we feel about our bodies.

Although the thought of confronting these issues may seem more daunting than simply losing weight, it gets a lot easier when we do confront them. Once we tackle a smaller goal related to our insecurities, it gives us the confidence to challenge something bigger. And before we know it, we are tackling our deepest fears.

I should mention that weight loss might make us happy temporarily, which is referred to by some in my field as a “weight-loss high”. This occurs because it gives us the false sense of having and fulfilling a purpose. 

We live in a society where it is not only socially acceptable but socially expected for people to be actively pursuing weight loss. This comes from an unscientific cultural notion that fat is unhealthy. This idea is in contrast to a lot of research which points to the fear of gaining weight has more negative health outcomes than being in a larger body. 

Stigma around body size and insecurities can be a daunting task to unpack. I see people of all genders, cultural backgrounds, and ages who are actively dealing with body shame. There is no need to do it alone.